I spent a thoroughly enjoyable day in a little Chardonnay vineyard pocket along the Van der Stel pass en route to Bot River early last week, drinking bubbles and eating delicious food with a friendly group. The experience still makes me smile.
Melissa Nelson seems to be one of those happy people who smiles a lot actually, and her cheerfully-make-a-plan attitude rubs off on those around her. Melissa was a pilot for a while before deciding she wanted to make Cap Classique, so she asked around until she found somebody willing to show her. Genevieve Blanc de Blancs MCC was the result.
Only 5500 bottles were produced of the maiden Genevieve MCC 2008 vintage. You can’t buy that vintage any more, which is a pity. After The Saxon Five Hundred’s chef David Higgs’ delicious country-ish meal pairing Genevieve MCC 2008, 2009 and – current release 2010 – I’m convinced these Chardonnay-only wines are real crackers after at least a couple of years in the bottle. The 2010 is fresh, lean and elegant and full of green apple zing, but is like a teenager still trying to develop its personality. Sipping the 2009 (my favourite) and very smart 2008, it’s as though you’re tasting sun-kissed nectarines with yeasty croissants. Yum.
Genevieve is pitched at a fairly serious spender with its R165 price tag (for the 2010), yet meeting some of Melissa’s regular bubbly-loving fans over lunch (one a model-turned-mom who was one of Genevieve’s early twitter followers) I gathered there is a definite swing towards handbags and heels. Melissa has just launched a Genevieve perfume that was inspired by her gently elegant fizz, and plans to sell it at boutique wine stores.
If you’re wondering what we ate, David’s menu kicked off with oyster and potato crisps with a dusting of celery salt, alongside mushroom, leek and humus snacks. The starter was perkily fresh, combining unusual ingredients including slices of yellow beets with tarragon-pickled almonds and grilled lettuce, alongside goats cheese. Pork initially seemed a conservative choice for a main course – I think bubbly works best with a smoky savoury element – but to give credit the velvety confit pork with its clever pork skin ‘popcorn’ bits crisped just right gave new texture and twist to perfectly roasted meat with baby carrots. Halved honeyed sweet potatoes and ginger beer gel added sweet tang to the plate. I wasn’t bowled over by a macadamia and halva parfait with pear mousse and lemon verbena custard – a lot of ingredients you wouldn’t ordinarily put together formed a delicately flavoured frothy interpretation. But I couldn’t fault it for being unusual, and for letting that glass of Genevieve bubbles shine.
GENEVIEVE Cap Classique See Genevieve
A lot has been said about creating dishes to pair with wines. But it’s not often that it works the other way round, and wines are made to suit food. The Culinaria range from Leopard’s Leap in Franschhoek was created to do exactly that. The six wines range from R65 for the Chenin Blanc Grenache Blanc, to R95 for the non-vintage Culinaria Méthode Cap Classique, so they offer value in a medium price bracket. During four separate meals, I put a few of the wines to the test with Leopard Leap’s extensive food-matching suggestions. This is what I discovered:
The Leopard’s Leap Culinaria Shiraz Grenache 2010 (R89). Recommended foods for the Leopard’s Leap Culinaria Shiraz Grenache 2010 include spicier foods such as spiced Moroccan lamb, Indian shami kebab and Chinese Szechuan beef. However roast venison, beef and lamb served with a reduction sauce or with chocolate-chilli sauces are also on the list.
Other foods: rich casseroles such as oxtail and beef bourguignonne, or dishes that incorporate beef, lamb, pork or duck, with various beans and lentils.
Food no-no: most fish dishes, and overly ‘fiery hot’ dishes, the reasoning being that the perception of alcohol will increase and the wine will be stripped of its fruit.
My dish: rustic spiced-tomato lamb shanks. I watched plump pieces of lamb shank being cut from a whole sheep and trimmed at a Beaufort West butchery on a recent overland trip. The low Karoo price per kilo made lamb shanks into an affordable splurge for this dish. Mine are slow-baked with cinnamon sticks, then tinned tomato, chilli and brown lentils are added near the end of cooking. Learn to make the Rustic spiced-tomato lamb shank recipe here The Plaisir de Merle Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 brought by a lunch guest possibly pipped the Shiraz Grenache with the lentil shank dish, showing this wine up as simpler and fruitier. But then the Plaisir de Merle is made in a more serious style, and costs double at around R160. Score for the Culinaria Shiraz Grenache 2010 with my rustic spiced-tomato lamb shank: 8 out of 10.
On to the Leopard’s Leap Culinaria Grand Vin 2010 (R89). Leopard’s Leap recommends Chateaubriand or grilled, plain aged steak with this Bordeaux blend (it’s almost half Merlot, with fairly similar amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon Cabernet Franc, and a dash of Petit Verdot).
Other foods: slow-cooked meats and stews, roast chicken, turkey, duck and quail, or liver in all its forms.
Food no-no: venison, strongly-flavoured cheese such as a blue, or spicy-hot foods as these could ‘make the wine taste astringent and accentuate its alcohol and tannin’.
My dish: Because they also recommend ‘herbal and earthy ingredients such as garlicky, herb-strewn meat roasts’ and ‘lamb with rosemary or thyme’ I mixed up some of those elements. This red blend showed nicely understated oak (new and second-fill barrels). And it worked very well with aged rib-eye, braaied simply in olive oil, studded with chopped garlic cloves and dusted in fresh rosemary.
Score for the Grand Vin with my rosemary-and-garlic rib-eye: 8 out of 10.
The next meal included Leopard’s Leap Culinaria Pinot Noir Chardonnay (R69). With a 60% Pinot Noir in this blend, the recommendation is for dishes with rich textures and flavours – butter, cream, melted cheeses – as well as ingredients such as white beans or polenta to add texture.
Other foods: Smoked, grilled or lightly charred dishes. A variety of fish types, especially tuna and swordfish, or mild and sweet crayfish or prawns. Also given the thumbs up were white and brown mushrooms, especially if butter is used in the preparation.
Food no-no: any sweet foods, or recipes that are too bold or showing extreme levels of spicy heat.
My dish: I threw together a fishy pasta we often make for friends: leeks and mushrooms panfried in butter with a hint of dried red chilli, cooked down with a splash of Pinot-Chardonnay, and then finished with half a carton of cream. Towards the end we add bite-size pieces of lightly smoked Franschhoek trout and baby spinach, and mixed it through linguine. Score for the Pinot Chardonnay with the creamy trout linguine: 9 out of 10.
The last wine was my favourite. Sipped alone, Leopard’s Leap Culinaria Chenin Blanc Grenache Blanc 2012 (R65) has a lovely sensation of silky texture from the Grenache Blanc. With old vines originating in the Voor Perdeberg and older oak, it makes for a very appealing white blend. The Culinaria Chenin Blanc Grenache Blanc is designed to partner cold shellfish, plain grilled white fish, and cold tomato-based salads.
Other foods: white meats ‘with ample fresh herbs’ but excluding rosemary and thyme, dishes including citrus juice, dill and sour cream, or stuffed baby marrow and green beans. The ingredient list also includes stirfried calamari with lots of lemon, and seafood salads with freshly prepared mayonnaise.
Food no-no: Savoury Chinese or Latin American dishes that tend to be sweet, or dishes based on caramelised onions, sweet butternut or root vegetables. Rich sauces might be overpowering here.
My dish: I didn’t have any exotic ingredients lying around, so we baked readymade chicken schnitzels, squeezed over a lot of lemon, and jazzed it up with homemade mayonnaise freshened by chopped Italian parsley. On the side, thin oven-baked potato wedges and panfried onions, courgettes and baby spinach. Score for the wine: 10 out of 10. Score for the Chenin Blanc Grenache Blanc with the chicken schnitzel, parsley mayo and greens: 9 out of 10.
In short the Culinaria wine range for food is a great idea. Most of us don’t want to think too hard about what to serve at each meal. This range makes food experimentation fun, and is fairly reasonably priced. It’s also rewarding trying to match complementary instead of clashing ingredients. Our toddler thinks the wooden wine box makes a nifty garage for his toy cars too.
LEOPARD’S LEAP WINERY, R45 Main Road, Franschhoek. Tel 921 876 8002. Contact Liné for wine info or food-pairing suggestions at 021 876 8843. All Culinaria wines are exclusively available from the estate (A Méthode Cap Classique and a Muscat de Frontignan 2013 dessert wine are also in the range).